The canvas in front of us features an extraordinary level of detail, with figures found in every corner. Rubens would call upon his assistants for help to complete this piece and he would normally allow them to work on the less significant parts of each composition, freeing him up to focus on the important parts and also to take on other projects at the same time. This type of collaboration was particularly common in both the Renaissance and Baroque eras, but only the most successful artists would be able to afford to employ full time studios or have enough commissions to keep them occupied. One of the finest examples of this process in action would have to be Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling design, in which he made use of a team of assistants over whom he would supervise everything with a keen eye.
The topic refers to events in Bethlehem, as described in Christian scripture, namely the Gospel of Matthew (2:13-18). Rubens considered this an important and highly inspiring passage that resulted in different paintings that were constructed many years apart. The theme also suited perfectly his signature style of great colour and activity for which he remains so famous even today. The massacre would also appear in many other artists' careers, becoming one of the most reproduced religious themes of all at a time when Christian beliefs were a huge part of European society as well as being the source of much of the wealth of the continent.
This version, produced in 1636–1638 can now be found in the permanent collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany. They possess a supreme collection of work from the old masters, taking in fine art from Italy, Germany and Dutch/Flemish regions. Besides displaying Rubens' The Massacre of Innocents, they also offer other notable items such as Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Carnation), Rembrandt's The Descent from the Cross and The Holy Family, the Bruegel's Harbour Scene with Christ Preaching and The Land of Cockaigne as well as Giotto's famous The Last Supper from many years earlier.